Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Weird Passives

We normally teach passives in a straight forward way. The subject of a passive verb receives the action of the verb. "The answer was given by Paul."

But the other day I was translating with my son and we came across one of those weird passives. In Matt 8:26 we read, "Then getting up (εγερθεις) he rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm." In what sense was Jesus "was raise" (passive)?

Lets talk about passives. There are several types.

1. Regular passives. Perhaps something like "Jesus was helped up by the disciples." But that's not what the text says. There is no indication that they grabbed him and forced him to stand.

2. Deponents. These are tricky in the aorist passive since you can't automatically tell if it is a deponent as in the future middle and aorist middle deponents. Dan Wallace gives a list of the eleven true deponents, and the eleven that look like deponents "but most likely are not" (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, p. 430). But no where in the list is εγειρω.

3. There are the passives where the agent of the action is hard to identify, such as "Be humbled under the mighty hand of God" (1 Pet 5:6). But that is not really the case in Matt 8:26. We know from how e?e??? is used elsewhere that the text is just saying Jesus got up. So why passive?

The answer is is in BDAG. This book is indispensable. Entry #4 is, "to move to a standing position, rise, get up, pass. intr. of those who have awakened." In the passive, e?e??? can be intransitive. But note the gloss. "To rise, get up." Where's the passive?

When BDAG gives a specific gloss that is passive in form but active in meaning (even if it is not a deponent), they are telling us that this word in this form is active in meaning. Why does it have a passive form? Some times you just can't tell. εγειρω is used in the previous verse with an active sense (with an active form); the disciples "woke him [Jesus] up." But it is just part of the meaning of the word that in the passive it can be used as an intransitive and have an active meaning, "he got up."

So the moral of the story is, get BDAG, pay attention to the voice of the verb, and if it doesn't make sense checkout the entry in BDAG. If it has an entry for the passive and gives you an active gloss, then know that that is just part of the meaning and usage of the verb.